February 1, 2016

by Mankato Clinic

We’ve all been there: The weather gets colder and we find ourselves longing for nicer weather while we bundle up in our homes. Suddenly, our eight hours of sleep doesn’t seem like enough and we are becoming more irritable. The winter blues are common, but it’s estimated nearly 10 million Americans suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of clinical depression that occurs durin g the same season each year.

Minnesotans with SAD certainly aren’t alone; the disorder is proven to more commonly affect people who live in northern climates. Individuals who experience winter daylight hours that are very short have a higher incident of Seasonal Affective Disorder and general depression due to the decreased daylight. Women, people between the ages of 15 and 55 and those with a close relative with the disorder are also more likely to have SAD.

While it’s common to have some winter blues in the next few months, symptoms of SAD come and go at about the same time each year, for more than two years. Most people who have been diagnosed with the seasonal disorder find their symptoms start in September or October and subside in April or May.

So, how do you know if you may have SAD? Some common signs to look for this winter are sleeping more, having a larger appetite, craving sweets, pastry and rice, gaining weight, becoming irritable and feeling that your arms and legs are heavier than normal.

Treatment of SAD may include light therapy, psychotherapy and medications, which is why it’s important to consult with your physician about your symptoms..  In addition to a treatment plan for Seasonal Affective Disorder, it may be beneficial to try the following:

  • Beginning in the fall, go for walks outside during the day to help get your body more light.
  • Try to get at least 30 minutes of moderate, intensive exercise five times a week. Try walking, running, lifting weights, yoga, biking, swimming, skiing or cross country skiing.
  • Eat healthy by eating balanced meals. Introducing foods with Vitamin D (salmon, egg yolk, shitake mushrooms, fortified orange juices, breakfast cereals and butter) can not only help with SAD, but helps your whole body health.
  • Sleep a minimum of six to nine hours each night. Sleep and neurology professionals recommend individuals sleep 8.1 hours a night to gain the maximum benefits without becoming too tired.
  • Turn more lights on in your house, or set up a dawn simulator which will wake your body up with a sense of natural light.

If you have that yearly feeling of depression that begins and ends at the same time, don’t just think it’s a seasonal funk that will go away. Seek out your physician or mental health professional and explain to them your symptoms of the ‘winter blues.’ You can take steps to keep your mood and motivation steady throughout the year and into the winter months.